• Abi Prowse

5 Dystopian Novels to Devour this Winter



There’s something perversely thrilling in reading a dystopian novel during a global pandemic. Whilst the world outside does slowly seem to be returning to some semblance of normality (said, of course, with trepidation), dystopian writing seems to be flourishing now more than ever. Following in the footsteps of immensely successful writers like George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Margaret Atwood – who professes, instead, to write speculative fiction – authors across the world have tapped into their darker, more profound side. Call me crazy, but it seems that there’s nothing like a semi-apocalyptic reality to get people really questioning important themes like society, mortality, and nature.


If you’re hoping to add something unsettling to your bookshelf this winter, then these 5 novels should find themselves at the top of your list. Each focusing primarily upon different (yet equally important) topics, these 5 dystopian novels are united by their brilliant writing, original ideas, and, of course, the questions they leave you pondering as you turn the final page.



Looking for more book recs? Take a look at our favourite Scandinavian novels.





Dreamland

Rosa Rankin-Gee

@rosarankingee


If you follow me over on Instagram, you may have already seen me harping on about Dreamland. A novel which was published earlier this year, Dreamland is set in a working-class seaside town in the UK. Whether it’s in the near or distant future is, really, up to the reader – either way, it is decidedly post-pandemic. The story follows the life of Chance: a young girl experiencing the trials and tribulations of teenage life as the world falls to pieces around her. Dreamland is not subtle in its criticism of British classism, written in a society which is essentially leaving the working class to drown in the rising sea levels as wealthier members of society take shelter in the larger inland cities.


As bleak as this may seem, Dreamland takes a hopeful turn when Chance meets and falls in love with Franky. In a Romeo and Juliet-inspired twist, the two lovers come from incredibly different backgrounds, and are forced to keep their relationship hidden. To Chance, Franky is a breath of fresh air, providing respite from the overwhelming issues Chance faces in her family life; she is proof that life can be better.


Focusing on the ideas of climate change, class differences, discrimination, love, and much more, Dreamland is as much a dystopia as a coming-of-age story.





CrossTalk

Connie Willis


A novel which blends the genres of speculative and science fiction, CrossTalk differs from many other dystopian novels in that it is, primarily, a romantic comedy. How can one book bridge so many genres? I hear you ask. Whilst, at times, it may feel a little jumbled, it works – actually, it reflects the content of the book itself quite nicely.


As with most dystopian novels, CrossTalk is unsettling for its eerie closeness to reality. In the novel, a new technology used to make couples more compatible is quickly gaining popularity. The only catch is that a brain operation is needed to form that emotional connection with your other half. When Briddey’s high-flying, business-minded fiancé asks her to trial the operation with him, she says yes; but not without some trepidation. And it turns out that she was right to be concerned.


CrossTalk discusses, primarily, love in the digital age, and the way in which connections cannot be digitally manufactured. Willis also underlines that, sometimes, having too much information at your disposal can be damaging. Needless to say, when I finished CrossTalk, I also turned off my phone.





Klara and the Sun

Kazuo Ishiguro


Kazuo Ishirugo’s latest novel has been long-awaited in the literary world, and Klara and the Sun, when published, divided the opinions of bookworms and reviewers everywhere, who couldn’t quite seem to relate to the narrator. I can’t help but feel that this was actually the point. Let me explain…


In classic Ishiguro style, the novel is narrated in first-person, allowing the reader to really connect emotionally with the character, in spite of their flaws and shortcomings. Klara and the Sun, however, is narrated by Klara: an AI robot whose purpose in life is to provide companionship and company to a lonely child. Ishiguro differs from many other dystopian writers in his subtlety; if you didn’t know this novel was set in an alternate future, you might never realise. But in doing this, he lulls readers into a false sense of security, only to burst the bubble towards the end of the novel. Perhaps, in using Klara as his narrator, he wants readers to remain not-fully-connected with her. Perhaps this is the point.


As with most of Ishiguro’s writing (think Never Let Me Go), the main idea explored in Klara and the Sun is humanity, and what really makes someone human. Klara has feelings, develops relationships with other characters in the novel, and feels energised when surrounded by nature. So what is it, exactly, that stops her from being seen as human?





Docile

K. M. Szpara

@kmszpara


The debut novel from young writer K. M. Szpara, Docile is, at times, difficult to read – not for its writing, which is gripping and sensual, but for its unnervingly-close-to-reality topics. Set in Maryland, USA, in an alternate future, many Americans find themselves in crippling debt, unable to lift themselves out of poverty. This is the case for Elisha’s family. When Elisha is offered the opportunity to free his family from debt by becoming a Docile to the country’s upper class, he decides to take it – but, unusually, opts not to be injected with the ‘dociline’ drug, which is said to make the process easier for both Dociles and their masters.


When Elisha is paired with uber-wealthy Alex, who happens to be heir to the dociline throne, he is launched into a world he never expected to see, treated more like a pet than a human being. As the novel develops, so does Elisha and Alex’s love story, which, of course, is completely forbidden. Alex is faced with a choice: to continue creating a drug which clearly causes harm to the people using it, or to stand up to his family and to upper-class society on behalf of the man he loves.





Leave the World Behind

Rumaan Alam

@rumaanalam


With elements of a thriller or suspense novel, Leave the World Behind will leave you feeling deeply unsettled (and possibly going to bed with the light on). When middle-class couple Amanda and Clay head into the forests of Long Island with their teenage children, they’re hoping to get away from the stresses of city life, caused by their high-flying jobs and busy social schedules. When they arrive at the house they’ve rented online – a vision in crisp marble finishings with a long, elegant swimming pool – a knock at the door startles them that night. A Black couple, GH and his wife, Ruth, have arrived with news from the city, and claim to be the owners of the house.


Slowly, as the novel develops, strange things begin to happen, the family and their guests growing more cut off from society with each passing day. The general feeling of unrest, which is deepened for the couple by the presence of the two visitors staying in the basement, transpires through the pages.


Alam perfectly captures the sense of general unrest and subtle degeneration that seems to come with apocalyptic periods in history (hello, pandemic). Do not read this at night.




 


Got any suggestions for great dystopian novels? Leave a comment! ↓

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